Tri Tip is one of my all time favorite cuts of meat to cook on my grill. Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge of a perfectly cooked Rib Eye, slow smoking a beef Brisket or anything I put on the grill when it comes right down to it. There’s just something about a beefy, char-crusted, juice dripping Tri-Tip that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And with my simple reverse seared Tri-Tip technique and recipe, I know you will fall in love with them too.
I grew up eating Tri-Tip so my love affair with it started when I was a young boy. My dad would often cook them on his Gas grill for family dinners in the summertime and I will never forget the crusty, charred, juicy, beefy bliss. To many a Californian, especially a Northern Californian, Tri-Tip is what backyard BBQ is all about!
Over time and many trials and errors, I have come to perfect the art of cooking a Tri-Tip and take much pride in it. It is a mercifully forgiving cut of meat when it comes to grilling, but there are ways to make a Tri-Tip really shine.
Understanding The Tri Tip Cut
The Tri-Tip is a large, tender and triangular (hence the name Tri-Tip) muscle cut from the bottom sirloin of a steer. The cut is from the
muscle group that controls the steer's back legs.
It’s a mouthwatering combination of a steak and a roast that’s perfect for grilling. I have even heard of it being hailed as the “poor man’s prime rib” due to its excellent full beefy flavor and comparatively lower cost.
It’s a leaner cut that texturally resembles a flat cut brisket, though it doesn't have nearly as much of the fat on the outside and generally only runs from 1.5 to 3.5 pounds.
It has a fat cap on one side that can be left on the cut to enhance flavor when grilling, but many butchers trim back the fat side for aesthetic purposes. My butcher sells both trimmed and untrimmed versions. I usually go with the later and trim down some of the fat myself while leaving a thin layer for flavor.
The Tri-Tip cut, made famous as a local favorite in Santa Maria, California in the late 1950’s, used to only be available on the West Coast but has grown in popularity over the last several years. It is now frequently found in a lot of membership stores across the U.S.
Tri-tip is called by many different names across the country. If you are having a hard time finding it, chances are your butcher refers to it by something else. Any butcher worth his salt should know this cut but just in case, check out “12 Other Names for Tri Tip.”
Why A Beef Base Rub?
While searching for a new recipe for brisket a while back, I ran into a very interesting article from Robyn Lindars from GrillGirl.com (Great Website for Grillers by the way.) She has a recipe she calls “Better Than Sex Brisket”, and let me tell you, it was truly the “bomb” as she says.
What was interesting about this recipe was that it calls for “Beef Base” to be rubbed over the entire brisket before applying your dry rub. Now I have applied several different things to meat prior to adding a dry rub to help it stick, but I have never tried beef base.
Most recipes I find will call for a coating of cooking oil, mustard, Worcestershire sauce or even melted butter to be added before applying your spices. So I was excited to try something new to me.
As I mentioned above, I wasn’t disappointed. The brisket came out amazing using Robyn Lindars Better Than Sex Recipe and I could really taste the added flavor enhancement from using the beef base.
This got me to thinking that I should give it a try on a Tri-Tip and the rest is history.
What Exactly Is Beef Base?
Beef Base is a darkly colored, thick, goopy paste made from Roast Beef and Concentrated Beef Stock. It is salty so I don't pre- salt the meat or
add salt to my rubs when using it. It's found in the same section as soup/bouillon cubes/stock/broth. You don’t want to get carried away with this stuff. A thin layer rubbed throughout is all that is needed.
The Reversed Seared Tri Tip With a Beef Base Rub Recipe
Because of its triangular and tapered shape, this is a perfect cut of meat if you have a family that likes their meat cooked to different amounts of doneness. The narrow and often thinner tip will cook quicker than the fatter butt-end, giving them a range of temperature doneness to choose from.
Serves 3-4 with leftovers or more if you make sandwiches
- 5 to 3.5-Pound Tri-Tip
- Beef Base
- Your Favorite Go To Rub (could be home made)
- Grill Set Up For Indirect Heat
Your Favorite Beef Rub of Choice. I used Plowboys BBQ brand Bovine Bold. This is one of my favorites for brisket and tri-tip. You can find it on Amazon Here.
I also enjoy Jess Pryles Hardcore Carnivore Black.
The traditional Santa Maria-style Tri-Tip calls for a black pepper, salt, and garlic salt rub. I have also used smoked paprika, cumin, a bit of brown sugar and cayenne at times.
Meat: Trim or remove the fat cap and lightly score the meat on both sides so it can absorb more rub.
Rub a thin layer of the beef base into the Tri-Tip on all sides. Don’t over do it. Generously rub your seasoning of choice into the meat, again
covering all sides. When using the reverse sear method, you don’t have to add as much of the spice rub as you would for a typical sear.
A typical sear for Tri-Tip, I season very generously as some of the spice will fall or burn off during the initial sear. The reverse sear, you will be searing at the end so the spices have had a good chance to absorb in. I still season generously, just a little bit less.
Whether using a Charcoal or Gas grill, set it up for indirect heat by creating a direct/indirect zone.
The Reverse Sear:
My Four Keys To A Great Reverse Sear
- Start low and work your way up to temp. Add your meat right after lighting your grill so you are actually cooking during pre-heating stage. Use your air vents to bring the temp slowly up to 350 degrees Fairenhieht. The slow heating process really adds to the smokey flavor and helps keep your meat moist.
- Always use a meat probe digital thermometer when cooking with indirect heat. You have to nail the temps on this one or you can overcook or undercook the tri-tip.
- Cover and rest the meat for 15 minutes at about 20 degrees from your target finished temperature. (More on This later.)
- Finish hot and fast! I can’t stress this one enough. You want your grill's cooking surface to be around 600 degrees Fairenhieht for the final sear. This way you will get a quick, charred crust on the outside without letting the heat penetrate the meat too much. You don’t want the center to cook much more.
Light your Grill and immediately add your meat off the fire over the cooler side of the grill and put the lid on. Add your meat probe to monitor the temperature. Adjust your air vents to slowly bring the grill temp up to 350 degrees Fairenhieht. I usually take close to 30 minutes to let it get up to temp.
Let the Tri-Tip cook until the internal temp reaches 115 degrees for a medium-rare finish. Add 5 degrees for each level of doneness. Pull it off the grill and immediately cover it with foil on a platter and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Finish It Off
In the meantime, if you are using a charcoal grill, start preparing more charcoal to get your fire super hot again. Add more if needed. If you are using a gas grill, kick it up to its hottest setting. I was cooking on my Big Green Egg so all I have to do is open the vents and raise the lid about 12 minutes into the 15 minute rest period to get my fire screaming hot again.
Put the Tri-tip back on the grill over the fire and sear for about 2 minutes on each side. Add 30 more seconds to each if needed.
Immediately transfer the meat to a warm plate and start carving thin slices against the grain with a sharp knife. There is no need to let it rest again. Remember, you already did that before the sear. Don’t let it cool off and lose its wonderful charred crustiness. At this point, you should have a platter of warm beefy juices which you can spoon back over the meat.
Experience Tri-Tip Ecstasy. If you try this technique and recipe- please let me know what you think!